Finding motivation for task initiation can be difficult, especially if you’re neurodivergent. Have you ever felt like you just can't muster the energy or enthusiasm to tackle a task, even though you know it's important? Maybe you've set a goal, but find yourself struggling to make progress toward it.
You're not alone.
Staying motivated can be tough, even for the most driven of us. However, there's actually a science behind motivation. By understanding how our brains work and what drives our behavior, we can learn to stay inspired and engaged even when faced with challenging tasks or setbacks. In this article, we'll explore some of the key concepts behind motivation and offer practical tips for staying on track toward your goals.
The Science Behind Motivation
Motivation is complex, involving many factors, both internal and external. At its core, motivation refers to the drive to initiate and persist in goal-directed behavior. Without motivation, task initiation is near impossible for some people. Understanding the science behind motivation can help us to better harness this drive and achieve our goals more effectively.
Types of Motivation
There are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation refers to the drive to engage in a task or activity simply because it is inherently enjoyable or satisfying. Examples of intrinsic motivators might include playing a sport because you find it fun or engaging in a hobby that brings you pleasure.
In contrast, extrinsic motivation refers to the drive to engage in a task or activity because of external factors such as rewards, punishments, or social pressure. Examples of extrinsic motivators might include working hard to receive a raise, studying for a test to get a good grade, or getting some ice cream after a long day.
Research has shown that intrinsic motivation tends to lead to more sustained and fulfilling engagement in tasks than extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation tends to be short-lived and less rewarding. However, external rewards can still be powerful motivators for some people, particularly in certain contexts.
Finding intrinsic motivation is very difficult if the task is something you really don’t like to do. It also takes time to develop intrinsic motivation. That’s why when we’re working with kids, we always start with the extrinsic rewards. When you earn a reward or prize it makes the accomplishment worthwhile.
As you grow and mature, you start to see the intrinsic value in things, but (and this is a big BUT) you can’t just decide to have motivation. You can force yourself to do tasks that you don’t want to do, but you probably won’t be motivated to do them.
Neurotransmitters and Motivation
Motivation is also linked to the activity of specific neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is often referred to as the “reward neurotransmitter” because it is involved in the brain's reward and pleasure pathways. When we engage in activities that are pleasurable or rewarding, dopamine is released in the brain, creating a positive feedback loop that reinforces the behavior.
My ADHD people – you know about dopamine. It drives many aspects of your life, from food to work. Your brain, especially, loves the dopamine hit. That’s why it’s hard to find motivation for task initiation when you don’t want to do it or you don’t care about it. There is no payoff.
Serotonin, on the other hand, helps regulate mood, appetite, and sleep, among other things. Research has suggested that serotonin may also play a role in motivation, particularly in the context of delayed gratification. For example, serotonin levels tend to increase when we engage in tasks that require us to delay immediate rewards in order to achieve a longer-term goal.
A concept that has received a lot of attention in relation to motivation is the idea of “flow.” Flow refers to a state of deep engagement and absorption in a task, where one is fully immersed in the activity and experiences a sense of effortless control. When we are in flow, we tend to be highly motivated and focused, and the activity feels intrinsically rewarding.
For some ADHD peeps, this is your hyper-focus. When you’re in this zone, you can accomplish anything.
But getting to a state of flow is challenging when tasks are not inherently enjoyable or engaging. There are a number of strategies that can help to facilitate flow, such as setting clear goals, breaking down complex tasks, and removing distractions from the environment.
By understanding the different types of motivation, the role of neurotransmitters in motivation, and the concept of flow, we can start to develop a better understanding of what drives our own behavior and how we can use this knowledge to stay motivated and engaged.
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Practical Tips for Staying Inspired
While understanding how motivation works is important, it's also essential to have practical strategies for finding motivation and inspiration in everyday life. Here are some tips that may be helpful for busy women and mothers who are neurodiverse:
Set SMART Goals
One of the most effective ways to stay motivated is to set clear, achievable goals. To make sure your goals are effective, try using the SMART framework:
- Specific: Make sure your goal is clear and well-defined
- Measurable: Set specific criteria for measuring progress toward your goal
- Achievable: Choose a goal that is challenging but still realistic
- Relevant: Ensure that your goal is aligned with your values and priorities
- Time-bound: Set a deadline for achieving your goal
For example, instead of setting a vague goal like “get in shape,” try setting a SMART goal like “run a 5K race by the end of the summer.”
Break Down Tasks into Manageable Steps
Complex tasks can be overwhelming, particularly for neurodivergent people. To make these tasks more manageable, try breaking them down into smaller steps. This can help you to focus on one task at a time and reduce feelings of overwhelm.
For example, if your goal is to clean your entire house, you could break this task down into smaller steps such as “clean the kitchen,” “vacuum the living room,” and “organize the closet.”
If even “clean the kitchen” makes you cringe because you’re not sure where to start, check out goblin.tools. You can put in the task you need to do and it will break it down into smaller steps.
I put in “Clean the kitchen” and this is the checklist I got back:
- remove all items from the countertops
- wipe down the countertops with a damp cloth
- sweep the floor
- mop the floor
- wipe down all appliances
- wash dishes or load them in the dishwasher
- empty the trash
- wipe down the sink and faucet
- put away all items in their designated spots
Pretty cool, right?
Use Visual Aids
Visual aids can be a powerful tool for staying motivated and organized. Try using tools like calendars, to-do lists, and charts to help you track progress toward your goals and stay on top of important tasks.
Your planner can be filled with time blocks or habit trackers to give you a visual for what you should be doing when.
Take Time for Self-Care
Self-care is an essential part of staying motivated and inspired. Prioritize activities that make you happy and help you to recharge. If we constantly push through getting things done, we’ll burn out. I know it’s hard to take that time for yourself when you don’t feel like you’re as productive as you want to be. But this isn’t something you want to cut corners on.
Celebrate Your Achievements
Finally, it's important to take time to celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they might seem. Celebrating your successes can help you to feel more motivated and confident in your ability to achieve your goals.
It doesn’t matter if celebrating makes you feel silly—it will help keep you motivated. And please, please ignore the jerks around you who don’t get it. If you finally made the phone call to cancel a subscription, you’ve earned the right to celebrate. You might’ve put it off for 6 months, but it’s finally done! Woo-hoo!
By incorporating these practical tips into your daily routine, you can cultivate a greater sense of motivation, even when faced with things you really don’t want to do.
Motivation and task initiation are critical skills for success, but they can be especially challenging for neurodiverse individuals. By understanding the science of motivation and implementing practical strategies, however, it's possible to cultivate greater inspiration and focus in your daily life.
Remember that motivation is not a one-size-fits-all concept, and what works for one person may not work for another. The key is to experiment with different techniques and strategies until you find the ones that work best for you.
By finding motivation for task initiation, you be more productive and achieve your goals.